School Superintendent meets with former students

COVINGTON - This week, Newton County School System Superintendent Steve Whatley is reflecting about what he and some past students discussed last week.

Whatley held his second annual Student Forum on Wednesday at the Newton County Board of Education.

"This is the second year we have provided graduates the opportunity to present their points of view about personal experiences in the academic, support and extracurricular programs regarding their respective high schools," Whatley said in a prepared statement.

The forum is a way for Whatley to help fulfill one of the school system's beliefs: two-way communication with its stakeholders, including students, parents, employees and members of the community.

Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for NCSS, said Whatley personally invited 36 high school students to the event - 12 from each high school, including the 2008 valedictorians and salutatorians and others selected by the principals. Seven students attended.

"Our goal is to have more students to participate in this forum because we truly value their input," Viniard said. "Having graduated from the Newton County Schools, they are the ones who can provide input and ideas on how to improve our high schools. They know the schools better than anyone."

Viniard and Kathy Reese, director of high school curriculum, also attended the event. It was closed to the public and media in order for the students to feel more comfortable about expressing their opinions, Viniard said.

During the two-hour forum, school system officials asked the students questions about what programs, classes, activities and positions were beneficial or not beneficial to them, Viniard said.

"Questions were also asked regarding extra curricular activities and the college/technical school/job application process," she said. "They were also asked what courses or programs they thought should be considered for the future."

Viniard said the students showed concern about Advanced Placement classes - wishing for more selections and better content - and also notified Whatley that certain classes were too easy or too difficult. Some also said taking joint enrollment courses at colleges was valuable, and some expressed an interest in the creation of an International Baccalaureate Program.

"It was a very open conversation with students giving their input on all the issues," Viniard said. "They were given free rein to express their opinions, both positive and negative."

She said Whatley mainly listened to the students during the forum but also acknowledged their concerns and assured them he would start working on their suggestions "right away."

"Their responses provide helpful insight as to the areas of strengths and improvements for the individual high schools and the system as a whole," Whatley said. "We will review their responses with our principals, appropriate staff and the board to determine if improvements can be made."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.